From Corporate to Entrepreneur One Nashville Black Woman’s Journey

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Aireka Harvell of Nodat (Courtesy Photo)
Aireka Harvell of Nodat (Courtesy Photo)

The entrepreneurial field isn’t easy, especially for an African-American woman, but here Aireka Harvell stands, ready to take it on. Being an entrepreneur was definitely not something that was thought of early in life.

“I was a preacher’s kid. What was drilled into our heads was ‘go to college. Go to school.’ We didn’t talk about entrepreneurship in our household. Although I guess you could say my parents were kind of entrepreneurs because they owned and ran our church and a church is run just like a business. I helped with that as well as a young adult.

But as life usually does, it throws you for a loop when you least expect it and that loop came in the form of an entrepreneurial effort Aireka was a part of before her own venture. 

“I never thought about owning my own business. When I was married my ex-husband and I opened a barber shop. I handled the bills and I actually found the building. I was actually the reason he opened the barbershop. He had a desire to own his own shop and one day I came home from class (I was attending TSU at the time) and told him to get up because we were going to find a building that day. I was just being a supportive wife. We drove around until we found a building and we met the landlord. We talked him down to a price that we could afford.  We agreed to renovate it and paint it. We did that together and ran the barbershop for four years.”

Aireka got a taste of entrepreneurship, but at that time, it was not the path she saw for herself.

“There was a sense of pride knowing that we owned our own business and that we were generating income from that, but for me, it wasn’t mine. It belonged to him. So, I didn’t really get that sense of pride of owning my own. At that point, I also knew if things did not work out, I was still working at AT&T and bringing in income.”

When she left the barbershop business, Harvell went back to focus on her career at AT&T.

 “I actually didn’t have any desire to be an entrepreneur after my divorce. I had a goal of moving into corporate management at AT&T and changed my major from Psychology to Business at TSU and after I got my B.A. I went to MTSU to get my Masters in Strategic Leadership. It took me years to get promoted and was finally promoted to Team Lead in the Sales and Retention department. “

But while Harvell was climbing the corporate ladder, an entrepreneurial idea that would alter her life came right from within her own home. 

“The idea started when one of my sons came to me and asked ‘Momma, did you know there was a waterpark open in Murfreesboro?’ and I asked him how he found out about it. He said that he found out about it through Snapchat from his friends. I started thinking that none of my friends have mentioned this waterpark on Facebook. I started thinking about how to get more people to talk about businesses when they are happy versus when they are upset and how to support more local businesses through this.” 

From there, Nodat was born and Aireka had a vision for what she wanted it to do.

“Nodat is an interactive marketing platform that includes a local coalition loyalty program. We turn customers into promoters and reward them with points for a “Nodat.” A “Nodat” is an action a customer performs that helps that local business grow. For example, a checkin, a written or video review, a recommendation, photos or videos uploaded and shared on social media etc. So when you Nodat that means you support local businesses. The Nodat points are redeemed for exclusive offers through the local loyalty coalition and can be redeemed universally with the businesses that’s in the local coalition loyalty program. Nodat makes the customer experience more interactive and allows them to bring their family and friends into their experience in a more creative way and at the same time allows them to champion for the local brands they love. It adds more value to the consumer and their local life, saves them money, introduces them to new businesses and connects them to more local people while making them an influencer or go-to person locally. For a business, it will help them attract new customers. Especially look-a-like customers which are the family and friends of their existing customers and at the same time get them to keep coming back. Which increases the businesses repeat revenue and all-around make more money.”

The idea was formed in December 2016 and the work immediately began on building the platform in January 2017. The platform grew quicker than Aireka imagined and because of the popularity of it at that time, Harvell had a decision to make in November of 2017.

“I was at AT&T for nine years before I started working on Nodat. I got the idea in December 2016 and started building it in January 2017. When we first launched, we had the idea of being the “Yelp” of video reviews. I worked a whole year before I quit and I loved working for AT&T. I actually wish I could have kept both, but when I first started building the app, I joined the Nashville Entrepreneur Center to be around people who were living this life. I started meeting with advisors and going to workshops while using a lot of my vacation time and my bosses were like ‘You cannot do both of these at the same time. Your mind and heart is no longer here. You need to figure things out. Either you’re going to do this or you’re going to do that.’ At that time, we had around 10,000 downloads on the app and our team was like ‘ You need get out and start selling these subscriptions to businesses’ so I made the decision to leave in November of 2017.”

There she was, now a full-time entrepreneur and with any entrepreneurial effort, there are everyday life decisions that need to be made.

“The toughest part of entrepreneurial life for me is being a single mother and having to decide where my time should be spent and where my money is best spent to make sure that all five of my babies eat. I say five because I have four children and Nodat is number five. That’s one of the toughest things. And not sacrificing myself at the same time because I was completely bootstrapping and having to stay strong minded through all of my lessons that I learned and even now with the new product build out that we will be launching.”

Nodat is currently still developing and growing and Aireka is right there for it all, learning and growing right alongside the business. 

“My mission for Nodat is to be the solution that gives local businesses the same benefits of big advertisement and big loyalty programs at an affordable rate. Through Nodat local businesses can lower their cost of acquiring new customers with the help of their superfans and shift their focus to their existing customers through loyalty and retention. Local businesses are losing $6 trillion of repeat revenue annually because the current options out there right now either focus on getting new customers but don’t offer a way to retain those customers or it solely focuses on retention and not attracting new customers. Our product provides an easy solution for the business to do both all in one place.”

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy and Harvell can attest to that, but it is even tougher when you are a female African-American entrepreneur. 

“When I first became an entrepreneur, I had no idea how hard it was for African-American women to get capital for our businesses. So, when I jumped into the waters of entrepreneurship. I also inherited the obstacles that African-American women have been fighting before me.”

The going can be tough, with people not believing in what you’re offering nor taking you serious and Harvell has been through some of that through her short time as a full-time entrepreneur. And in her journey, she is definitely soaking it all in.

Aireka carries the badge of Black female entrepreneur ship like a badge of honor and she has set a goal out there for her business as well. She is one of the co-founders of Twende, a new entrepreneur program and annual summit for founders of color at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. She is also a speaker for youth organizations, entrepreneur programs, and women empowerment events and shares her story of persistency and growth.

“I am glad to see that a lot of wins have happened in entrepreneurship for Black women. There are 38 of us who have received a million dollars in funding. My goal is to be on that list by the end of 2021. That is one thing that really shocked me when I hit the water.  I had no idea that I was going to have to fight this fight as an African-American woman getting money to build a tech company.”

Harvell is an example for young Black women wanting to be entrepreneurs. Plenty have let their circumstances hold them back, but Harvell is just the opposite and is working hard to provide Nodat to the world and create a legacy for her family. 

“I’m really learning about and loving what entrepreneurship is and the growth it provides. There is beauty that comes with    the struggle.  

Advice for any Black women looking to get into entrepreneurship, she has this bit of words for you.

“The odds may be stacked against you, but the world is ready and waiting for you. So, get out there and do it.”

Stay tuned for Nodat and what incredible things Harvell and her team have in store as she continues this incredible leap of faith.

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